For this week's Travel Tuesday, Nuremberg!
First, the elephant in the room. Today, the name 'Nuremberg' doesn't conjure up some idyllic old German town but Nazi propaganda rallies and the most famous trials of the twentieth century. Of all the places I visited in Germany, Nuremberg might be the one that bands together all the juxtapositions of the country the most, especially the last century. My recommendation is to let go of whatever idea you have of Nuremberg and embrace the experience.
Nuremberg has always been high on my 'need to write this' Travel Tuesday list because it was one of my favorite places in Germany that I visited. (My current ranking is Berlin Hamburg Munich Nuremberg). Coincidentally, it's also the time we have people marching with swastikas and quoting Hitler here in America. I'll get to it later when we get to the Party Grounds, but I think Germany has done a really incredible job of being respectful of its recent past, honoring those who died, and acknowledging the horror of it all and the idea that it can never happen again. WWII was much more recent than the Civil War. The division of East and West Germany even more recent. And yet, from the perspective of this American engineer who briefly lived there, the Germans seem to have a better grasp on how to handle their ugly history than we do. Somewhere between sweeping it under the rug and wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag. And Nuremberg is probably the city that exemplifies this the most. I'll try to minimize the political soap boxing but you can't talk about Nuremberg without it.
Some logistics - I was living just a couple of hours away from Nuremberg. Twice last year, I took a bus and did a day trip to Nuremberg, three hours each direction. For my first trip, I booked a tour guide. He was impressed I was traveling so far for a day trip. But then I reminded him I was from America. And not just America, but the big states in the middle - distances have a different definition over there. For my second trip, I hit the sites I didn't have time for with the tour and, most importantly, saw one of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe. This entry includes items from both visits. Nuremberg suggestions - if you want to see the modern history and the older, you need at least two days. If you're just interested in one, you can probably manage in a day. My other recommendation is to go through a tour. There's just so much history and you're going to miss something otherwise.
Like this building! Built in the 1300's as a hospital, today it serves as a home for the elderly. It's a beautiful building in a lovely spot on the river, just around the corner from the old town and the site of the Christmas market. But don't adjust your retirement plans just yet. Only citizens of Nuremberg are eligible for residency.
The Hauptmarkt. This picture was taken when I first visited in the summer. There was a farmer's market going on at the time. A small sample of the total bananas circus that would be here a few months later for the Christmas market... The focal point of the square is the Fraeunkirche. At noon, the clock puts on its own little show. Our guide was a pro, timing our visit so we hit the square just at noon.
Not pictured is the Schoner Brunnen, or Beautiful Fountain. The 19-meter tall spectacle was under construction when I first visited and surrounded by tourists the second. It's an ornate fountain in the middle of the square. Legend has it that you touch the gold ring in the fountain's iron gate for luck. Even during construction, with the fountain itself hidden from view, the ring was made available for grabbing. Gotta appease the tourists.
Now for a totally different church, St. Sebaldus (we still have one more we'll get to later). It is a medieval church, one of the oldest in the city. In the back of the church, one of the sculpted gargoyles is actually a Judensau, because antisemitism wasn't anything the Nazis invented. Thanks for pointing that out, tour guide.
Statue of Nuremberg's favorite son, Albrecht Durer. An artist, he worked in a variety of mediums, including painting, woodcutting, and printmaking. His most famous pieces include Young Hare and Praying Hands.
Durer's house is a museum today, if you are interested or have time. I'm 0 for 2 on both accounts.
Statue for Durer's Young Hare.
The symbol of Nuremberg: the Nuremberg castle. It's on a bit of an incline, with cobble streets. Wear walking shoes.
The view of Alt Stadt from the castle.
This tower of the castle made me really happy and, as this bit of info wasn't in my guide book, made the tour totally worth it. This tower is the tallest, shortest, thinnest, and thickest of the towers in Nuremberg Castle. How, you ask?
The tower itself is the shortest, but it is seated on a higher point, so in regards to overall height, it's the tallest. The circumference of the tower itself is the smallest, but it has the thickest walls. The more you know!
St. Lorenz church. Built in the 1400's, the church was badly damaged during the war, as was much of Nuremberg. It has since been restored.
The interior of the church.
Let me set the scene. The tower marks the beginning of the old town. When taking this picture, I'm standing in old town. On the other side of the tower is the train station. So, if you have an hour in Nuremberg or just want to see the old parts of the city, it's right there, literally across the street from the train station.
The Hauptmarkt of the old town also has a Galeria. I don't know if I've mentioned them before but they are awesome and, to be honest, I kind of miss them. The Galeria is basically a department store on steroids. Each store (and they're everywhere) has at least four floors, including a restaurant, a cafe, a grocery department, an extensive wine and bakery section, school and office supplies, of all things, and the usuals - clothing, household goods, accessories. Etc. And open on Sundays! Both times I was in Nuremberg, I actually nipped into the Galeria to pick up snacks for the ride home, easier than the train station. Thanks, Galeria!
Now we're at the Nazi rally grounds, officially Reichsparteitagsgelande. If you've ever seen a black and white photo of Hitler speaking in front of a bunch of marching soldiers, it was probably filmed here. In the 1930's, the big party meetings were held in these grounds in Nuremberg. The rallies were a big part of the Nazi propaganda and the location of the film Triumph of the Will. Zeppelin Field is a series of grand stands, the main one pictured here, and the location of several Nazi speeches. To get here, you have to take a tram from the train station. You're dropped off at the Doku-Zentrum. Right behind the museum is what would have been the Congress Hall, if WWII didn't halt building plans, and across the lake from that is the stadium.
Hitler told his architect he wanted something reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman structures. There were lots of pillars and a huge swastika that was blown up by Allied forces upon taking Nuremberg. Having visiting Rome and Nuremberg, I will echo my German tour guide - Nazis were good at killing people but that's about it; they really sucked at governing and, as evidenced here, building things.
Seriously, the actual Colosseum is in better shape. There's an interesting debate in Bavaria right now, semi-relevant to our hand-wringing over Confederate statues. This structure and the Congresshall need fixing, in the millions of Euros area, or they will become unsafe. So what to do? Spend the money that could go elsewhere on fixing up Nazi buildings? Or let the history of WWII slowly disappear? I can see both sides but all the sites in Nuremberg did was reinforce that Hitler had a serious ego problem and, again, sucked at building things. But I'm sure there is a very different reaction to someone who lost family members in the Holocaust and has to see this stuff on his/her way to work every day. In the 1980's, a series of columns were removed from the grandstand because they had become a safety hazard.
But to be clear, these are buildings used by the Nazi's during the war. It's not some statue of Goebbels, built twenty years later to ramp up anti-Jewish sentiments.
I'm standing in the spot where Hitler gave all his speeches. In this field, proud Germans could come and demonstrate their skills and soldiers could march and patriots could give speeches. This was also apparently a disaster every year, as the locals were not at all equipped to housing so many people. Like, soldiers were sleeping on hay.
Another fun fact. Some of the party speeches and spectacles were held at night. The Germans didn't have enough spotlights, so they had virtually every spotlight in their power taken to Nuremberg to light up the sky, impressing the German soldiers but also the Allied who were watching. The secret was they didn't have anything else and were putting it all into this.
The view of Congresshall across the lake. Congresshall was modeled after the Colosseum in Rome and never finished. Missing are another row of columns along the top that would have doubled the structure's height and a self-supporting roof. However, modern architects believe this structure was not possible given the technology of the 1940s.
View from the inside. The Congresshall is also in serious need of repair. Again, Nazis were really bad at building things. Today, in addition to a reminder of what can never happen again, the hall serves as a location to store the Christmas market stalls
And now the Doku-Zentrum. It is right next to the Congresshall and is a museum documenting much of modern Germany history, from the end of WWI to the Potsdam Conference and the Nuremberg trials. I can't recommend this museum enough. It did an excellent job describing how antisemitism escalated, what life was like in Germany during this time period, and how the war was reported. I went there as soon as it opened. I do recommend coming early or an off day, as there are some interactive exhibits. And leave at least a few hours to spend here. The exhibits are extensive and there are several somewhat lengthy videos worth checking out.
In the museum, there's a platform that allows you to walk out and look over the interior of the Congresshall. Near that is this art piece, commemorating the lives lost at the concentration camps.
My Nuremberg experience was divided into three parts - Alt Stadt, Doku-Zentrum and Party Rally grounds, and the courtroom. Each area is distinctively unique and requires a separate tram. The courtroom is in a much more modern area of the city. The courtroom is is pictured here, distinguishable from the other buildings thanks to those three colorful flags in front.
This is it, Courtroom 600, still in use today. The trial room where the world-famous Nuremberg trials were held. The white TV monitor thing was showing video footage of the trails. Sitting in the room, I was struck by how small and compact it was. And, per videos and film, the place was packed with reporters, translators, lawyers, etc. It was surreal to be in a room where so much history happened and to be in the same place as some truly terrible, vile people. Evil was defended and sentenced here.
The exterior again. Allied flags. In addition to the courtroom, there's also an exhibit detailing the logistics of the trial, including selection of courtroom, various foreign governments involved, managing reporters, finding translators. Really interesting stuff.
That's enough of that. We're in Christmas territory now! The main Christmas Market for Nuremberg is in the Hauptmarkt. But it was like a tree. Or cancer. There's this huge mass in the main square, but the market had trendrils all over the place. Just walking around, I stumbled upon a mini Christmas market in another tiny square. This one had camels! There were several various animals here and they were friendly. After along day of WWII history, sometimes you just need to pet something fuzzy.
If you don't have mulled wine, did you really go to a Christmas market? It took me two Christmas markets (I went to Munich's the week prior) to figure out that you bought the wine, then drank it as you walked around the markets. You got these nice porcelain mugs and were given a Euro back when you returned it to the stall. If you did. The mulled wine was everywhere.
The Fraeunkirche, all lit up for Christmas. In all, I went to five Christmas markets while I was in Europe - Paris, Nuremberg, Munich, Mannheim, and Heidelberg. While they were all busy and crowded, the ones in Paris and Nuremberg were shocking. Not for anyone with a a fear of crowds. So many people. I honestly don't know how shopping was accomplished. I just walked around and tried not to murder anyone.
Real talk, I thought the Christmas markets were just okay. The one near me, never very crowded, was fun to get some of that Glutwein and to pick up a couple of Christmas presents. But the larger ones were just so crowded. And each one seemed to have the same stuff - ornaments and wood working and candles, paper artwork. There seemed to be maybe a dozen types of stalls and there were just repeated about a hundred times. At least there was wine and sausages.
But they were festive. And who doesn't wan that in December.
And now back home. Even the train station is a little bit magical for Christmas. Nuremberg was the only place I took a bus to (that I can remember). And honestly, the bus ride wasn't bad! The bus was made by the same people who make the Deutsche Bahn trains and were very similar. Two stories, I sat on the upper deck both times. It was honestly comfortable and in some ways preferable to a train. I recently took a bus to NYC and was expecting the same thing. Ha! America has not at all gotten there yet!